Sibling Rivalry Meets Caregiving

As a son or daughter doing most, if not all, of the work required to care for one or both of your parents, you’ve probably thought: “Why is this all landing on me? Why aren’t my siblings sharing the care?”

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual situation. If there’s only one thing I have learned, it’s that not all siblings feel the same way about caring for their parents. Family histories run deep, and there are often multi-layered and multi-faceted complexities that have built up over the years. When approaching this delicate territory, it’s important to think ahead—look before you leap.

Remind yourself that each of you had a different relationship with your parents and a different role in the family when you were growing up. Did the oldest tend to lead and the rest of you follow? Today, as adults, each of you have different lives, different responsibilities and different capacities to care or provide support (whether physical, financial or emotional). Also,
you might not all share the same “caring” feelings or the same beliefs about the type of care your parents should have or need.

Managing takes finesse and patience, rather than anger or the rehashing of old arguments.

Experts suggest that in times like this, the best thing to do is to stop and figure out what is needed. Slow down and think about who can help with what. There is no point in asking a sibling for something they can’t realistically give, just for the sake of getting back at them.

Do you need physical help, financial assistance or emotional support? Whichever it is, be calm, cool and specific, and pick the right time to ask.

If family discussions keep turning into fights and decisions aren’t being made, consider professional help. Family therapists, social workers, mediators and faith leaders can help families to work through tough situations. Sometimes an unbiased outside party is just what’s needed to find solutions that everyone can accept. And here’s to involving your parents in these discussions too. When the whole family hears their wishes, it is easier for everyone to get onto the same page.

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